Leaf mould is an extremely useful resource for your polytunnel. If you have deciduous trees in your garden, or access to fallen leaves in the surrounding area, then making leaf mould is definitely something that you should do. This step by step guide is designed to help you turn fallen leaves into a friable leaf mould material which can be used as a mulch and soil amender in your polytunnel:
Source Leaves for Leaf Mould
Fallen leaves in the autumn are a useful commodity. Even if you do not have many fallen leaves in your own garden, you may be able to collect some from the gardens of family, friends or neighbours, or even from a public space/ open land. Sourcing leaves for leaf mould can be worthwhile for all organic polytunnel gardeners, so make this a priority when leaves begin to fall.
Create a Place To Store Autumn Leaves
Make a mesh bin or fenced off area in which to store your leaves as they rot. Allow for plenty of ventilation in the structure. It is also best to create some sort of cover for your leaf pile so it does not become too wet if there is a lot of rain in your area.
Collecting Leaves For Leaf Mould
Though all deciduous trees’ leaves will work fine, some thick leaves such as sycamore and horse chestnut will take far longer to break down – shredding them can speed up this process. The best leaves of all are oak, beech and hornbeam. It is best not to add evergreen leaves to your general purpose leaf mould pile and pine needles are best kept separate to make a separate leaf mould that will be perfect for acid-loving plants.
Once you have established a source for your leaves, and created a place to store them, it is time to collect the leaves. A leaf rake will make this job easier, and a wheelbarrow can be handy to cart the piles of leaves to the new leaf mould bin.
Do not worry about getting some grass in with your leaves, this will just make your leaf mould richer in nutrients. Do, however, try to avoid spreading weeds into your leaf mould pile as these could become a problem if you do not keep on top of it.
Creating Leaf Mould
In very dry weather, it is best to sprinkle your leaves with a little water to make sure that the decomposition can continue. Other than this, however, you can pretty much leave the leaves to decompose on their own and will not need to worry about doing anything for at least a year.
After a year, the leaves in your leaf bin/ containment area should have broken down enough to be used as a mulch around your polytunnel plants. This mulch will help to retain moisture and will add nutrients to the soil. When laid thickly, it can also help to suppress weeds.
If you leave leaves to decompose for a further year, the leaves will have broken down into a lovely, crumbly soil conditioner which will help keep the soil in your polytunnel in tip top condition.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.